Sometimes movies are filled with unlikable characters, and that turns a lot of people off. I never go to movies to make friends with the characters. I actually think that lots of unlikable characters can be compelling.
And then there’s Aftershock, co-written by and starring Eli Roth. The first half hour of the film is spent with obnoxious, unlikable, vapid a**holes that aren’t compelling or amusing in the slightest. It just drags on and on, and becomes more aggravating with each unfunny joke and each self-congratulatory laugh. During this interminable period of smug douchebaggery, all I wanted was for the earthquake to happen so we could finally get the stupid freakin’ show on the road.
You see, while I never go to movies to make friends with the characters, sometimes I’ll tough it out through bad movies because I want to see awful f**king people meet bad ends. Yet even these people don’t deserve a movie as crappy as Aftershock.
Director: Nicolás López
Release Date: May 10, 2013
Aftershock is loosely based on the Chilean earthquake of 2010, a magnitude 8.8 quake that lasted roughly three minutes. At lest 525 people were killed and 25 people went missing, with around $4 billion and $7 billion in total damage.
When using an actual tragedy as a launching point for a movie, there’s usually a certain amount of sensitivity and care that goes into it. In Aftershock, none is taken. There’s no real solid tone or mood in the film. It’s a movie where people can be crushed by concrete slabs in a nightclub for emotional gravity one minute and someone’s face can be caved in by a car for attempted laughs the next. It’s an ugly, vile, awful movie, though not because of the way it shows the worst aspects of humanity in the aftermath of an earthquake; Aftershock is ugly, vile, and awful because it’s cheap-looking, transparently manipulative, and incompetently made schlock.
But getting back to the unlikable characters. We spend at least one-third of the movie establishing our three male leads — Roth, Ariel Levy, Nicolás Martínez — as fodder for the earthquake gods. They are the bro-iest bros that ever did bro, and to borrow from Heathers, all these jerks have to offer the world is date rape and AIDS jokes. Martínez plays a rich sleazedick that pisses on everyone around him, Levy is some guy obsessed with a girl somewhere and keeps his face in his dumb phone, and Roth is some simpering divorced ninny who creeps on Selena Gomez during her brief cameo. (She had the sense to get the hell out of this scumbag movie while the getting was good.)
The screenwriting strategy is clear and lifted from the Hostel movies: set up a bunch unsympathetic tourist assholes and then make them bleed. They accomplish the first part in 10 minutes, but then they waste the next 20 minutes in a dumb romp of ugly American sightseeing. As for the three female leads, there’s Natasha Yarovenko as a Russian object, Lorenza Izzo as a spoiled object with substance abuse issues, and Andrea Osvárt as the spoiled object’s panicky and pure-hearted sister.
I refer to the female leads as objects because that’s how Aftershock treats all of its women — it ogles them and then uses them to score emotionally manipulative points later on. The point-scoring is most obvious during a really foul rape scene, one which includes a bizarre tonal shift — it goes from absolute gravity, violence, and gore one moment to a slapstick punchline the next. Aftershock wants to achieve cruel irony that makes audiences feel simultaneous distaste and sympathy, but the moment plays out like it should be accompanied by a sad trombone. It’s such a transparent and insulting ploy, especially from a misogynistic movie that’s spent a good third of its run time reducing all of its female characters to a series of low-angle ass shots and/or potential sexual conquests.
I was talking to a film blogger/journalist before the screening began and she mentioned the idea of “bro horror,” and Aftershock is pure bro-horror at its worst. From the beginning to the end, that’s all that was on my mind. This is a movie made by total bros, for total bros; from its three male leads who delight in acts of bro mischief, to its bro-y use of rape as a plot device (i.e., it examines how it affects the bros more than the rape victim), to its idiotic finale. Aftershock is a douchebag bro-down jamboree of epic proportions.
On top of all the detestable characters and the amateurish manipulation, Aftershock itself isn’t innovative or well-made. The scenes showing the madness of Chile in the aftermath of a major quake are basically done along a block or two with about 20 extras, with the same repetitive, five-note score played again and again. There’s never a sense of an entire country in ruins or other people out there suffering. The gore is okay as far as gore goes, but because of the uneven tone, it’s gore without impact — mere fake hands, just latex, only colored syrup. The climax is a mess as well, with so much going on in poorly lit close-ups that it’s hard to tell what’s happening (if you even care at that point of this despicable garbage).
During the last two minutes of Aftershock, all I could think was, “They totally set up something earlier, and they better not do it because it’d be so friggin’ dumb if they did.”
It happened, and it looked even cheaper than the rest of the crap in the movie. I literally rolled my eyes. Then I clenched my teeth and exhaled through slack and befuddled lips like a Clydesdale having just hauled a cart up a large hill. I seethed at the screen and tried to make it blow up with my mind. When I calmed down, there was only one thought writ large as the five-note music library score.
Movie, I am not your fucking bro.